2018 Distinguished Teaching Award

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The UCLA Academic Senate’s Committee on Teaching has selected Professor Zhao Li for a 2018 Distinguished Teaching Award for Non-Senate Faculty.

“Dr. Li is an exceptionally engaging and effective teacher who truly cares about her students’ learning success and truly deserves the honor of the Distinguished Teaching Award” said Department Chair Catherine Clarke. “She is an extremely gifted and very passionate teacher, infusing the students with an enthusiasm and an understanding of their course materials that is unmatched.”

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Li teaching an upper division quantum mechanics class. Li says that it makes her very happy when students show their understanding and ability to expand the concept from a simple quantum system to more complicated ones.  

As one of the highest honors given by the Academic Senate, the Distinguished Teaching Award recognizes academically and professionally accomplished individuals who bring respect and admiration to the scholarship of teaching. Recipients are selected from nominations received by colleagues and leaders across the campus.  

Li is one of three non-senate faculty campus-wide who will be honored during the annual Andrea L. Rich Night to Honor Teaching ceremony in the fall, an event co-hosted by the Academic Senate and the UCLA Office of Instructional Development.

“Dr. Li’s profound and enduring impact on her students may be summed up by her teaching evaluations” said Vice Chair for Undergraduate Education Professor Yung-Ya Lin. Two quotes from Li’s evaluations were included in her nomination letter for the award: “Professor Li is a very special human being; one of the few I have met that makes me reconsider if there is a God. If he has sent angels down to Earth to show people how live life, she is one of them.” and “Prof. Li is a LITERAL HUMAN ANGEL.  I know I will never have another professor as dedicated and amazing as her. She literally gives her entire life to our class.” 

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On the last day of class, Li is often times asked by students to pose for photos. She is pictured here with a student from her Chem 20B class in Winter 2016 (left) and with a group of students from her Chem 14A class in Fall 2016 (right).

Li received her bachelor’s degree in polymer science in the honors program from Sichuan University in 2010 and her Ph.D. in physical chemistry from UCLA in 2015 under the direction of Professor Yung-Ya Lin. She is currently a Libby Teacher-Scholar teaching undergraduate chemistry courses and continuing her research on early cancer detection and targeted therapy by magnetic resonance molecular imaging and nano theranostics in Lin’s laboratory. She also helps mentor about fifteen group members for graduate and undergraduate research.

The department’s Teacher-Scholar program allows assistant adjunct professors to conduct research and teaching simultaneously, as a way to effectively prepare them for future faculty positions. In research, Li received a Roy and Dorothy John Fellowship from Division of Physical Sciences in 2014, the department’s Physical Chemistry Dissertation Award in 2015, and the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research Award in 2016. In teaching, Li was awarded the UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry Hanson-Dow Teaching Assistant Award in 2011 and the Academic Senate Distinguished Teaching Award for Teaching Assistants in 2015. In April 2018, Li received the department’s highest teaching award, the Hanson-Dow Award for Excellence in Teaching.

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Li poses for a photo with junior and senior chemistry and chemistry & material sciences undergraduate students in her Spring 2018 Chem 113A “Physical Chemistry: Introduction to Quantum Mechanics” class.


A class photo from Li’s Fall 2016 Chem 14A “Atomic and Molecular Structure, Equilibria, Acids, and Bases” class with freshmen and sophomores from life sciences.

Photos by Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry.